Trip Coach: June 12, 2007
Mark Smith, editor of England-based website Seat61.com, answered your questions on booking inter-city rail travel in Europe.
Mark Smith: Hi, this is Mark Smith. Thank you for joining me. I'm ready to answer your questions about inter-city rail travel in Europe!
Egg Harbor Township, NJ: I am taking my mother to Switzerland and Germany. I have already purchased my tickets and will be arriving Zurich 10/09/07. I plan to leave Zurich on the 12th or the 13th, then go to Frankfurt, from there I want to go to Munich, then on to Berlin, then leave Berlin for home on 10/23/07. I would like to stay in each of those places a few days. I promised my mother no flying once in Europe so I was looking at a train pass. I was on the Rail Europe web site and found what I want but there were only prices in first class. Is it possible to get a pass in a cheaper class? (2nd and 3rd class gets there the same time as 1st). Thanks for any help you can give me. Linda
Mark Smith: Hi Linda. Forget expensive railpasses. Just use http://bahn.hafas.de (English button at upper right) to plan all your train trips, and to book the Munich-Berlin train online (there may be very cheap deals available if you pre-book this section). Then buy the Zurich-Munich train at any Swiss station as soon as you reach Switzerland, there are always lots of places available even on the day of travel. You'll find the journey very comfy, and scenic!
Mount Laurel, NJ: Since I am able to read French, I recently booked a TGV ticket directly on the SNCF website (voyages-sncf.com) rather than through Rail Europe, the official US sales outlet. SNCF also offered many more low fares than Rail Europe. Is there any downside to doing this?
Mark Smith: This is exactly what I recommend! Book online at European prices with all the cheap airline-beating advance purchase deals that we Europeans are offered, direct with the European Railways. SNCF try to make it a little difficult for you, as Rail Europe is their subsidiary company and they'd rather rich Americans paid the special Rail Europe prices. So SNCF will happily send tickets to Iran, Iraq, Northern Korean and even Afghanistan, but quite deliberately NOT the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. But to get round this, simply leave 'France' selected as the country in which you want to receive tickets and you can print out most of the cheapest 'prems' special fares and have other tickets sent to an address in France, for example your hotel. Easy!
Sarasota, FL: We are flying in to Paris on September 1 and returning from Madrid on Sept 28th. We plan to visit Eastern France, Barcelona, Southern Spain and if there is time Portugal. We generally use second class train tickets (except on overnight travel) to move about. I'm puzzled about whether or not to buy tickets ahead of time, (what package) or to wait and simply buy the tickets there. What is your advice? Jim
Mark Smith: If you're planning long distance journeys and you want to retain the ability to be spontaneous, to be able to decide there and then to hop on a train tonight in Paris to go to Berlin tomorrow, then a Eurail pass is probably going to save money over full fares. But pre-book cheap deals online direct with the European railways at sites like www.voyages-sncf.com or www.citynightline.com or www.nachtzug.de, on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel-plans basis and this is now almost certainly the cheapest option for long distance travel in western Europe.
Fremont, California: Is it possible to buy a Eurorail ticket in the USA and if so, is it cheaper than buying a ticket in Europe?
Mark Smith: In theory, Eurail tickets can ONLY be bought outside Europe, as they are intended for overseas visitors. But in many cases you'll find ordinary point-to-point tickets are a cheaper option, especially if you book direct with the European rail operators at their own website rather than through an expensive US agency, and especially if you are prepared to pre-book tickets on a no-refunds, no-changes-to-travel-plans basis so as to take advantage of European railways' various budget-airline-beating special train deals.
Chicago, IL: May/June 2008, wife & I, ages 61&65, will go to Madrid, Sp. on frequent flier miles. Then Train to Lisbon, Por. for a 3 day pre group tour. Group travels 2 weeks & ends back in Madrid when we will Train from Madrid to Santiago, Sp. for 1 week & return to Madrid for flight home. (All 1st class train or overnight sleepers) I have gone on the internet to find discounts/schedules but only get more confused. Please HELP?
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